Turkey, Greece seek NATO mission in Aegean: German official

A migrant, identified as 20-year old Pelen Hussein from Syria, with a capsized boat in the background, is rescued by a member of the Turkish Coast Guard Air Command in the Aegean Sea off the waters of Edremit bay, Turkey February 8, 2016, in this handout photo provided by the Turkish Coast Guard Command. REUTERS/Turkish Coast Guard Command/Handout via Reuters

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Turkey and Greece have agreed to ask for a NATO mission to monitor refugee flows in the Aegean Sea and combat people smugglers, a senior German government official said late on Wednesday.

“Turkey and Greece are both asking NATO to develop an overview of the situation with the national coastguards and Frontex,” the German official said, referring to Europe’s border protection agency.

Struggling to stop refugees streaming into Greece despite a deal between Ankara and the European Union to combat the flood, Germany and Turkey surprised partners this week by saying they would raise the issue with NATO.

Turkey has also said it is prepared to take back refugees who are rescued at sea or picked up by NATO, the official said.

Information gathered by NATO should also be passed on to Turkish authorities to go after people smugglers, the official added.

“It is not NATO’s remit to push back or stop refugee boats,” the official said.

NATO allies already have ships in the eastern Mediterranean, part of efforts to shore up Turkey’s air defenses against missiles from Syria and Russian airspace violations.

Reporting by Tom Koerkemeier and Sabine Siebold; Writing by Caroline Copley; Editing by Peter Cooney